Department of Justice warns that Berkeley sanctuary status may be violating federal law

Official portrait Jonathan McElhaney
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The U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to the city of Berkeley on Wednesday, warning that its sanctuary policies concerning immigration status may violate federal law.

Berkeley was one of the 29 jurisdictions to receive the letter from the Department of Justice. The letter outlines two city policies that prohibit the “gathe(ring) or disseminat(ing)” of information on individuals regarding their immigration status. These policies, the letter states, “may violate” Section 1373, a federal law that bars local and state governments from prohibiting individuals from sending information to or receiving information from the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

According to a press release from the Department of Justice, compliance with the law is a requirement for jurisdictions, such as Berkeley, receiving grants from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, or JAG, Program. The program issues a grant to local and state governments for law enforcement purposes.

“The Department is concerned that (these policies appear) to restrict the sending or requesting of information regarding immigration status, in violation of section 1373(a) and (b),” the letter said.

The letter requests that Berkeley and Alameda County submit a joint response by Dec. 8 to address these concerns and state whether the jurisdiction would comply with Section 1373 if given the Byrne JAG award for the 2017 fiscal year.

In the press release from the Department of Justice, Attorney General Jeff Sessions urged cities to comply with the federal law in order to “properly process criminal aliens.”

“Jurisdictions that adopt so-called ‘sanctuary policies’ also adopt the view that the protection of criminal aliens is more important than the protection of law-abiding citizens and of the rule of law,” Sessions said in the release. “I urge all jurisdictions found to be potentially out of compliance in this preliminary review to reconsider their policies that undermine the safety of their residents.”

City spokesperson Matthai Chakko said in an email that after the city has reviewed the letter, it will “respond as appropriate,” although he did not specify how the city will respond.

Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington said the letter is referencing two specific sections of City Council resolution 63.711, but he added that he believes Berkeley’s policies are in compliance with federal laws.

Worthington said he has noticed that under President Donald Trump, the Department of Justice has tried to take away grants from sanctuary cities. Several federal judges, however, have overruled these actions.

“In reality, the city of Berkeley has been a sanctuary city for decades,” Worthington said. “It’s not something new.”

Worthington added that he felt that the Department of Justice was trying to intimidate cities for having “moral principles” and “come up with some way to say that people are breaking the law.”

“The federal government can’t tell local and state governments to do anything and everything they want,” Worthington said. “There’s restrictions on what they’re allowed to do.”


Contact Cade Johnson at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @cadejohnson98.